The billionaire funder of everything left-wing may be the puppet-master source of all evil to Glenn Beck and his fans, but the White House may be thinking of George Soros as more of a pain in the rear end than anything else today. Yesterday Soros spoke to a private session of wealthy lefty donors at the Democracy Alliance, a group that funnels money into various liberal causes. According to Politico, Soros merely declared, “Obama shouldn’t compromise” with the Republicans. But according to the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, Soros was a bit more blunt than that in his off-the-record remarks. According to Stein, Soros told his audience “We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line. And if this president can’t do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else.”
That sounds like a direct threat that Soros and the rest of the assembled lefty moneybags would fund a primary challenge to Obama unless he toes the line on liberal doctrine. Soros later denied that’s what he meant, but his remarks were a warning shot fired over the presidential bow.
Should Obama take the threat seriously? Soros and the rest of the crew at Democracy Alliance have the financial power to mobilize the leftist grass roots that can make the difference in any Democratic primary. If they can find a credible liberal who had the guts to run to Obama’s left on issues like a demand for an immediate U.S. pullout from Afghanistan (remember, Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination running as an anti-war candidate) or the president’s failure to ram through an even more leftist version of health care, then Obama would be in for a fight. But the idea that we are on the eve of a massive left-wing revolt against Obama in the coming year is probably more a Republican fantasy than anything else.
First, while Obama will never satisfy the hard left, the chances that he will emulate Bill Clinton and shift to the center in 2011 are slim and none. Obama’s arrogant and unrepentant view of the elections make it more likely that he will take Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel’s advice and govern largely by executive fiat in the coming months than he will make nice with the GOP, let alone steal Republicans’ thunder by signing conservative bills and claiming credit for them as Clinton did. Other than Afghanistan, which Obama may defuse as a liberal issue by starting his bugout of the country as promised in 2011, there may not be much room to the president’s left to run on in 2012.
Second, for all the big talk on the left about holding Obama’s feet to the fire and the dangers that a challenge to the incumbent presents for the White House, as John pointed out in his article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, he is still the first African-American president and, as such, has a certain immunity to criticism from Democrats that an ordinary chief executive would not have. The Moveon.org crowd’s influence cannot be underestimated, but the African-American voting bloc is still just as, if not far more, powerful in Democratic primaries. Moreover, the backlash against any white liberal who dares to challenge Obama — a move certain to be characterized by blacks as a stab in the presidential back — may be a greater deterrent to potential candidates than any of Soros’s admonitions directed at Obama. Even a fearless independent such as Russ Feingold would have to think twice about becoming the man most hated by African-Americans.
Thus, while Obama has plenty to worry about in the next two years, especially if the economy does not recover, he still has the whip hand over his party’s left. Despite the unhealthy obsession that some on the right have about the unsavory billionaire, Soros really isn’t the puppet master of the Democratic Party, let alone someone who has the power to manipulate the American political system the way he did some foreign currencies. The man to watch on the left is still Barack Obama, not George Soros.